Drivers deserve and need better roads
A leaked version of Melbourne's latest draft transport plan placed its focus on "congestion-busting".
One suggestion was to reduce congestion by building fewer roads. Another was to discourage drivers from shopping trips during the day by reducing speed limits.
The apparent strategy is to make road use sufficiently unattractive so that people will give up using their cars and wander over or cycle to the local shops and "activity centres".
The leaked draft plan follows an all-too familiar theme. It panders to noisy anti-car groups who want to force a greater use of public transport, plus more cycling and walking.
But cars (and commercial vehicles) are basic to Melbourne's liveability because modern cities have highly dispersed destinations. Even the most efficient public transport struggles to serve the nine-tenths of trips that don't radiate to the city centre. As a result, trains, trams and buses account for only 10 per cent of our trips.
Cycling features prominently in government transport plans though it represents only 0.6 per cent of trips.
Cycling also attracts a disproportionate level of funding - before Christmas, Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, as part of the "infrastructure stimulus", announced funding for more than two dozen new bicycle paths.
But, unlike heavily taxed motor vehicle users, cyclists pay no direct costs.
Even excluding general taxes on motor vehicles, specific road use taxes in Australia (mainly fuel excise and licensing) collect far more revenue than is spent on roads. Car use is milked by governments to bankroll other spending.
Siphoning off revenues raised by the motor vehicle user eventually impacts on road speeds and travel times. And getting around the city, especially in the journey to work, is taking longer.
In 2006 people spent 40 per cent more time travelling to work than 15 years earlier. Travel speeds for Melbourne car trips have not improved since 2003 while trips have become longer. Nor have public transport speeds improved - we have faster trains but trams have become slower.
It's a cliche that time is money but cities exist and prosper precisely because they allow fast personal and commercial interaction. Where travel times increase, cities work less well and decline in relative and sometimes absolute terms.
Road capacity therefore needs to keep pace with users' needs. The consumer/taxpayer is demonstrating a willingness to finance more and better roads, including within urban areas, with their outlays in fuel excise, licence fees and tolls.
Rather than using this revenue on road expansion, the Victorian Government may be preparing us for additional road use taxes masquerading as ``congestion charges''.
Aside from the fact that motorists already overpay for roads, the problem with a congestion tax is the government monopoly over roads. This gives governments an incentive to skimp on new building in order to increase its revenues.
Instead of penalising car use, governments should deliver road users the services their taxes are paying for. Failure to do so not only robs the car and truck user but also undermines the efficiency of the city and its wealth-promoting abilities.